Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Open borders: to have, or not to have—that is today’s question.

The Freeman website hosts a ‘debate’ between two allegedly libertarian authors on the subject of open borders: to have, or not to have.

The allegedly libertarian A.M. Fantini argues that if we “apply libertarian principles to the real world” then “if an immigrant arrives who eschews assimilation, derides local customs, rejects cultural norms and mores, and believes in ideas and values that are directly opposed to classical liberalism … then even the staunchest advocate of open borders should think twice.” Grounds then, you would have thought, for mass eviction in most polities—and on allegedly libertarian grounds!

Both morality and practicality—and history—is on the side of open borders, argues Nathan Smith in reply. “Before 1914,” in the period encompassing history’s biggest ever explosion of wealth and freedom, “human beings could move and live where they wanted to. Since 1914, they are mostly trapped in the countries where they were born.”

Writing to a libertarian audience,  I can take some parts of the case for open borders for granted [says a hopeful Nathan Smith]. When people are acting non-violently, harming neither the persons nor the property of anyone else, the government shouldn’t use force to stop them…  The current immigration system, a monstrous tangle of authoritarian micromanagement and economic irrationality, violates this principle. It should be jettisoned.
    But what about the welfare state? Today, the social safety net more or less guarantees a standard of living higher than what most people in the world enjoy. If we let foreigners come in and live off social safety net programs at taxpayer expense, we would be ruined. But as
Milton Friedman understood, open borders are incompatible not with the welfare state per se, but only with giving immigrants full access to the welfare state. The solution is not to keep immigrants out, but to deny them welfare, as we already do to some extent. It may also be reasonable at first to restrict their access to the ballot box through which they might lobby for access to welfare. This is both feasible and legitimate, as immigrant welfare dependency is not a big problem at present…
    [Opening] borders to free immigration would represent a major expansion of liberty, not only for foreigners, but also for [locals] who would gain new freedom—to hire, sell or lease real estate to, teach or learn from, worship with, and fraternize with foreigners, as well as to marry them without going through the lengthy, stressful, expensive, and uncertain process of applying for a …visa. 
    Meanwhile, immigration enforcement is a dire threat to civil liberty at home…

He concedes “open borders is a radical proposal, and a certain Burkean gradualism and respect for the precautionary principle may be warranted. But ultimately, justice demands we recognize the right to migrate.”

Read the two sides of the debate here—remembering as you do there’s a difference between immigration and citizenship. Now, on with the debate…

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